About Reuven Cohn's Haggadah Recordings
This is background material written by Dan Bricklin about the recordings of "From the Passover Haggadah to the Mishnah and Back: An Introduction to Rabbinic Literature" that are available on www.reuvencohn.com.
Did you ever wonder "Where did the Passover Seder come from?" or "Why are there four questions and four cups of wine?" or "What is the Talmud like?" Rabbi Reuven Cohn teaches classes that help answer these questions. He uses the common Passover Haggadah text as a gateway into the world of Rabbinic writings that shaped a religion in a way that is accessible even to people without a background in Jewish education.
What are the recordings?
These are seven MP3 files (released under a Creative Commons license in a podcast form) that together make up a recording of a complete 5-hour course given by Rabbi Reuven Cohn to a small group. Both Rabbi Cohn and the participants were recorded, and the printed material that they used is provided, so you can feel as if you were sitting in the class. The course took place over a three-evening period.
The subject of the course is the Passover Haggadah, the book used during a Passover Seder. Reuven uses the text of the Haggadah, and the 2000-year old Rabbinic material behind much of that text, to show some of the origins and evolution of this ceremony that has been a key part of the Jewish religion.
Reuven teaches with a lot of class participation. The participants were all Jewish and had attended many, many Seders. They had, though, a wide range of backgrounds of Jewish education, from very little to extensive. Most had never studied any Mishnah or other Talmudic literature before. This wide range should give most listeners someone in the class with a background at the same level as themselves. The entire class was conducted in English, with materials that should be accessible to people who have little or no experience with Hebrew.
The class starts out with Reuven asking the participants questions about their views of the Haggadah, and then looking over some of its text. It starts out a bit slowly as he lays the groundwork for some of the questions he will be answering during the rest of the class. After that, he starts introducing the Mishnah, explaining what it is and showing how it directly relates to the Haggadah. From there the class starts dissecting elements of the Haggadah and shows the purposes and origins for many of the parts, giving a feeling for the different agendas of various rabbis who helped create it.
Who are they for?
These recordings are for anybody who is curious about the origins of the Passover Seder and the book that is central to it. They are also for people who would like to get an idea of what Rabbinic Literature (the Talmud, and especially the books that make up the Mishnah) is like and what was going on as Judaism (and Christianity) evolved following the destruction of the Second Temple in the 1st Century C.E.
How the recordings came about
In the late winter and early spring of 2008 I took a 10-session course at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts, taught by Rabbi Cohn on this subject. I found it fascinating and very illuminating. Here was a book that I had been reading closely throughout my whole life, and now I saw it, and the ceremony it helped define, in a new light. I asked Reuven if he would be willing to record a short version to share widely on the Internet. He agreed, but felt that he taught better in a class situation. I assembled some friends with a wide range of backgrounds, and hosted and recorded the sessions. This is the result.
To listen to the recordings, go to www.reuvencohn.com. Please let Reuven know what you think of them.
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